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Up the Stack, Down the Stack Or Not?

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One recurring and important strategic issue was raised at both the Spectrum Futures event and the following PTC Academy training course held in Bangkok, Thailand the week of Sept. 18, 2017: Can service providers move up the stack, and should they?
Russell Lundberg, Bangkok Beach Telecom CEO and founder, argued that “I’m a plumber; I can’t worry about moving up the stack.” Instead, his view is that service providers must “embrace their dumb pipes.”
Allan Rasmussen, Yozzo Co. managing director, took the other position. “You can move up the stack, but you must partner” to do so.
A third position was offered by Marc Olivier, Sigfox VP, namely that many new business opportunities in the internet of things area--especially for machine-to-machine sensor apps--are best handled by networks optimized for such applications. Olivier leaned towards the “stick to your knitting” approach, pointing out that a new ecosystem has to be built.
John Kjellemo of Yandex also provided his views about the intern…

What to Do About Industry Challenges? "Take the Package," One Exec Quips

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“Take the package” (early retirement) quipped Tony Mosley, Ocean Specialists director of business development, after a review of major trends in the global telecom business at the latest PTC Academy program in Bangkok, Thailand.

Mosley's playful retort came just before students developed a list of key challenges they would face as new CEOs of their own retail businesses.

The work teams came up with a list of six major issues they would have to confront: Margin compression Regulation Over the top services Differentiation Spectrum Convergence
As part of the three-day program, students (mid-career telecom professionals) are exposed to the business challenges leaders of businesses confront, and how they work to overcome those obstacles.

As always is the case, there was debate about whether it is possible to “move up the stack,” adding value and perhaps occupying new niches in the business ecosystem, to boost revenue and raise margins.
At the concluding session, students were immersed in thinking…

Is the Mobile Business Model Nearing an End? What Replaces It?

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There are many reasons to expect a rather massive consolidation in the global telecom industry over the next decade. The cost of networks keeps rising, with every mobile generation. We soon will reach market saturation, when virtually every person who wants to use mobile phone service, for example, already does so.
Essentially, we are reaching a point where customers are spending about as much as they feel appropriate for the set of services now offered (business or consumer).

There are hopefully major new revenue opportunities coming, but we should also expect most mobile operators and fixed operators to need to replace about half their revenue every decade, from now on.

Those are a few of the big changes to come. There are others.
The 5G era is going to be different from all others in the history of telecom, for several reasons. Traditionally, scarcity has been the paramount business constraint.

Bandwidth was scarce and therefore expensive. Regulatory strategies were designed to keep…

Abundance is Going to be a Scary Thing

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The 5G era is going to be different from all others in the history of telecom, for several reasons. Traditionally, scarcity has been the paramount business constraint.
Bandwidth was scarce and therefore expensive. Regulatory strategies were designed to keep matters that way, using monopoly or oligopoly market structures; expensive licensed spectrum; franchise or other market entry rules.
In the competitive era, where in most countries mobile competition has been the primary expression of competition overall, scarcity has remained a fundamental assumption. In most markets, less than 500 MHz of total spectrum has been available for all mobile operators to use.
Wi-Fi bandwidth helps, but even including all mobile and Wi-Fi bandwidth, less than a gigaHertz generally has been available for terrestrial applications.
All of that is going to change in the 5G era, which has to have mobile executives in many markets worried about the outcome. The reason is that multiple tools--small cells; new m…

Why So Many are Skeptical about "Moving up the Stack"

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Generally speaking, as much as service provider executives talk about "moving up the stack" to avoid becoming a "dumb pipe," there is justifiable skepticism about whether that is possible, in many settings. History suggests it is hard to do, hard to do well, and almost never has resulted in significant revenue upside.
There are a few salient exceptions--mobile banking in some markets and video entertainment services in a growing number of markets.
But much depends on where a particular actor sits in the value chain, and what part of the industry that actor occupies.
If the core business is undersea capacity, it is easy to see why skepticism about such moves up the stack is worth attempting. When the core business is "pipe," moves "up the stack" are unlikely to be easy, and might actually be dangerous, as it is so far outside the core competence of the providers.
On the other hand, such efforts already have proven most successful for retail suppli…

M2M Data Networks are REALLY Different

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Some idea of the character of machine-to-machine (sensor) applications can be seen by the typical amount of data that has to be transmitted by sensors. It may remind you of paging systems, should you recall them.

Sigfox says that sending GPS location requires about six bytes, temperature just two bytes. Object status might require only a single byte, the same amount of data consumed to report speed.
That shows just how optimized a low power wide area network is for low power consumption. Where one might think kilobytes are required to report at least some types of information, other simple status updates might take even less than that.
Such networks are optimized for uplink communications only, not duplex. So sensor transmitters can be turned off when not actively uploading data. Also, many sensor apps only require that a particular sensor be turned on for a few seconds a day, says Marc Olivier, Sigfox VP.
IoT networks optimized for mobile networks feature much-higher bandwidths. M2M n…

Why Telco OTT Partnerships Rarely Succeed

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“Moving up the stack” is about as key a concept in the telecom business as “dumb pipe” likewise is notable. “Up the stack” is a phrase that means an access services company (cable TV, satellite, telco, capacity supplier) moves from being a supplier of “pipe” services (network access and transport) to being an application provider.
In other words, such a firm returns to its roots. Recall that, historically, telcos made their business by providing voice communications. Communications (voice, originally) was the value and the business driver. To do so, telcos had to build networks.
They did not necessarily want to do so, but the product (communications) could not be sold without doing so. The same has been true with most products telcos sell. The product consumers and businesses often buy is some application with value, and the network is required to use those apps.
Broadly speaking this is now true for most consumer and business applications. What matters is the app and the value it prov…